Commission on Human Rights
Remembering a Kentucky woman who fled for freedom from slavery
Yesterday, Mayor Denny Bowman of Covington, Kentucky, declared that in his city, Thursday March 4 was Margaret Garner Day, “in support of Women’s History Month and freedom for all.” The proclamation said the city was proud to be a partner of the Kentucky Commission on Human Rights and a gateway to the Underground Railroad Freedom Center.
The Kentucky Commission on Human Rights yesterday unveiled a poster of Margaret Garner in recognition of U.S. Women’s History Month as the 49th Great Black Kentuckian in its educational poster series. The ceremony took place during a program at the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center in downtown Cincinnati, Ohio. Approximately 50 people attended.
“Though Margaret Garner left this region in tragedy those many years ago, her spirit returns today in triumph as the City of Covington declares this a day in her honor for someone who fought to the end the hateful institution of slavery,” said John J. Johnson, executive director of the Kentucky Commission on Human Rights. Johnson thanked the officials of the Freedom Center for honoring Garner in Cincinnati where her flight to freedom was brought to an abrupt end with her recapture just a few years before the Civil War.
Dr. Anne Butler, noted historian and faculty member of Kentucky State University, discussed the period in which Garner lived and the archeological studies that have been conducted on the Maplewood Plantation in Boone, County, Ky., where Garner and her family were slaves.
Members of the public can take a tour of Maplewood where there are beautiful hills and surrounding pastoral backdrops, Butler said. But behind the beauty lies the sad story of Garner and others who toiled there as slaves, she said.
Dr. Alicestyne Turley of the University of Louisville spoke about modern slavery in the form of human trafficking. The U.S. Central Intelligence Agency estimates that 50,000 people a year are trafficked through the U.S. as sex slaves or domestic or other labor. Turley said that several prosecutions for these crimes have occurred in Kentucky in recent years.
Garner was a slave whose flight for freedom through Covington and by foot across the frozen Ohio River to Cincinnati in January 1856 became the basis for the book by Toni Morrison and the subsequent movie and opera, ”Beloved." Garner was recaptured hours after her escape and in her anguish and mental torment killed her baby daughter rather than have the child live in slavery.
Her subsequent trial on whether she should be tried as a person in Cincinnati for the death of her daughter or be returned to Kentucky as a fugitive slave brought national attention to the abolition movement. Garner’s wish was to be tried as a person in her own right in Cincinnati and possibly face the death penalty. Instead, Garner was returned to Kentucky as a slave and died two years later, still hoping that one day her family would be free.
The Kentucky Commission on Human Rights earlier yesterday laid a wreath at Garner’s historical marker at Sixth and Main Streets in Covington.
The Kentucky Commission on Human Rights is the state government agency that enforces state and federal civil rights laws, which prohibit discrimination. Visit the website at www.kchr.ky.gov to see the Great Black Kentuckian poster of Margaret Garner and others.